San Luis Obispo Symphony conductor Michael Nowak doesn’t remember much about the chart-topping hits of the 1960s and ’70s.
“Weirdly enough, in those years I was really nerdy,” the music director recalled. “I was studying classical music, and I thought (rock ’n’ roll) was kind of dumb music because it only had two chords. I didn’t get why people loved it so much.”
Now, of course, he appreciates the appeal of The Beatles, The Doors and The Rolling Stones.
This weekend’s Pops by the Sea concert, “Summer of Love,” recalls classic rock’s heyday.
Grammy Award-winning guitarist Louie Ortega, saxophonist Dave Becker and others will join the symphony onstage to celebrate 20 years at the Avila Beach Golf Resort. KSBY anchor Jeanette Trompeter is serving as master of ceremonies.
“It’s going to be a ball,” Ortega said. “It’s going to be a great time.”
This year’s theme — “Summer of Love”—was the brainchild of co-concertmaster Pam Dassenko.
The program encompasses pop and rock hits from the years 1966 through 1970, ranging from “Windy” by The Association to “Wipe Out” by The Surfaris. Becker, who teaches applied music at Cuesta College, arranged many of the numbers.
“It’s really hard to pick and choose because there are so many hits,” Nowak explained.
For instance, he said, he decided to avoid songs by The Beach Boys “just because I wanted to move it more toward the hippy-dippy songs.”
Still, the stalwarts are well-represented, he added.
Concertgoers can expect to hear songs by The Beatles, Chicago, Jimi Hendrix and Simon&Garfunkel. A sing-along includes such lighthearted favorites as “Happy Together” by The Turtles and “Crimson and Clover” by Tommy James and the Shondells.
“A lot of that music still stands up today,” Ortega said. “(Kids are) always going back to Hendrix and Led Zeppelin. They’re staples in history.”
He’ll perform a trio of popular hits: “Black Magic Woman” by Santana, “Light My Fire” by The Doors, and “Spinning Wheel” by Blood, Sweat & Tears
A familiar fixture on the Central Coast music scene, Ortega launched his professional music career in 1969 as the front man of Louie and the Lovers. He then toured extensively with the Texas Tornados, earning a Grammy in 1990, before joining the newly resurrected Sir Douglas Quintet.
As of 2009, Ortega has released three solo albums: “You & I,” “In My Heart” and “Classics.”
Although he’s been approached in the past to do Pops, Ortega said this is the first year his schedule’s been clear. “I’ve always liked the idea,” he said. “I just really enjoy those new experiences.”
Ortega admitted that performing with the symphony may require some adjustment.
“When I play, I like to have it a little loose, so if magic’s happening we go that way,” he said. “You can’t do that with a symphony orchestra.”
Also performing Sunday are keyboard/trombone player Jeff Elliot, guitarist Adam Levine, bassist Bob Santa Cruz and drummer Jeff Stromberg.
Leslie McKinley, the symphony’s director of resource development, will channel Grace Slick’s “White Rabbit” and Tina Turner’s “Proud Mary.”
According to Nowak, “Summer of Love” is sure to draw plenty of nostalgic music lovers. The symphony is even offering tie-dyed Pops T-shirts for sale.
“I’m hoping that a lot of baby boomers come out — if,” he joked, “they can get their wheelchairs out there.”